Shades of Potential in Delia’s Shadow: a book review

deliasshadowDelia’s Shadow by Jaime Lee Moyer
Publisher: Tor
Date: September 17th, 2013
Genre: Historical Mystery
e-Arc provided by NetGalley

Rating: The plane was delayed, the luggage lost, and the museums closed. (In other words, I didn’t like it much).

And now, just to confuse you, lovely readers, in this post I recount a vastly different experience with Delia’s Shadow than my fellow reviewer, Jaclyn. (Spoiler: We do agree on the lacking romance). Forewarning: I watch a lot of Criminal Minds, that show about horrible horrible crimes and behavioral analysis of criminals.

Delia Martin steps off the train in San Francisco, her home, after three years in self-imposed exile in New York. She has returned because her “Shadow,” a young woman brutally murdered before Delia was born, haunts her, leading her back. Shadow’s death in San Fran is related to a serial killer currently stalking the city’s denizens and threatening the Pan Pacific Fair of 1915. Delia has a few close relationships – with her second mother and her best friend, Sadie. All her life, she has seen ghosts.

Gabe Ryan is a young police detective on the serial murders case, with a secret: this case may be related to an unsolved serial murder case that his father worked before him. He is determined, focused, by-the-book, and good friends with his partner, Jack, who is Delia’s best friend’s fiance.

At first, I found the novel compelling. I was hooked. I liked Delia a strong heroine with a sad and creepy ghost and a mystery to solve. Gabe was interesting, and I wanted to watch their relationship develop. I even enjoyed the visceral crime scenes, which added a vividness to the plot, although some are uncomfortable to read. (NB: If you get squeamish at gory details, you might want to give this one a miss. But check out a few of the titles I’ve recommended below.)

Before long, however, I found first the characters and relationships falling flat. In particular, the romance seemed forced, overplayed. Then, I noticed that I kept imagining the events were taking place in the 1940s. While this could be my own fault for not knowing the Ford Model-T was mass produced by the early 1910s, and that cloche hats were first designed in 1908, I was right about the fedoras, which were not worn regularly by men until the 1920s. The setting just wasn’t realistic enough, present enough, and I repeatedly lost the sense of being in 1915. Names were inconsistent – characters thought of each other by different names, often on the same page, which I found distracting. The climax  was almost glossed over, with little tension or suspense.

By the second half of the book, no part of it convinced me. The romance, the setting, the plot felt flat, contrived, and unrealistic. I had quite high hopes for this novel, but in the end I felt the delivery made it a quite forgettable tale of murder and romance in 1915 San Francisco.

Suggested Reading:

A historical account of the real-life serial killer at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, and an account of the fair itself. Superb.

The Devil in the White City

A complex detective story that revolves around the missing Grand Duchess Anastasia in 1922 Berlin. Fascinating.

City of Shadows

A cozy, witty murder mystery set in 1920s England, by the woman who established Regency England historical romances. Fun.

Footsteps in the Dark

One of my favorite mysteries ever, which follows a young girl in search of her family … and Dracula.

The Historian

A new, very creepy, gory murder mystery about a serial killer who travels through time. Definitely creepy.

The Shining Girls


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